No doubt about it: Wilton-Norwalk girls hockey will make some noise
The season’s first game always carries an air of excitement, and it will be even more so this Saturday when the Wilton-Norwalk girls hockey team takes to the ice in the season opener in East Haven.
The Warriors enter the season with a team that is one of the deepest and most experienced in the program’s 10-year history.
“We have a lot of experience out there. They won’t be intimidated in any game,” said head coach Pete Maxfield, beginning his third season. “We’ve got quite a bit of talent coming back. They’ve been very excited since we started talking about this season at the end of last season.”
The team, which features players from Wilton High School along with two Norwalk schools — Norwalk High and Brien McMahon — returns 10 players who played big parts in last year’s 9-10 campaign that tied the program record for second-most wins in a season. The team had won only three games each of the previous two seasons.
“The program has come a long way over the course of my four years, from a great new coach to an increase in the number of players,” said Wilton senior Molly Thomas, a team captain for the second straight season and a four-year starter. “The outlook for the team this year seems like it is going to be very good. Practices are more intense and all players on varsity are returners, which helps with the team chemistry.”
Scoring shouldn’t be a problem, which is amazing for a team that scored only 20 goals two seasons ago. The Warriors return players who accounted for 70 of last year’s team-record 74 goals, and Maxfield thinks the team can top that this season..
A big reason for that optimism is the addition of sophomore Natty Loredo, an exchange student from Mexico attending Wilton High School. Loredo is a member of the U-19 Mexican national team and has international competition experience. Maxfield said Loredo, who will center the team’s first line, is a powerful skater with a hard shot, and is very athletic.
“She’s been a great addition. She fits right in with our team,” he said. “She’s going to put the puck in the net for us. She’ll definitely be noticed when she’s out there.”
Sophomores Meghan Lane and Caitlyn Hocker, coming off outstanding freshman seasons in which they led the Warriors in scoring, will be on the first line this season along with senior captain Anna Bean.
Lane is coming off one of the best scoring seasons ever by a Wilton-Norwalk player, with 27 goals and 16 assists, while Hocker was the team’s second-leading scorer, with 15 goals and 16 assists. Both were second-team all-FCIAC picks.
Bean, in her third year of varsity play, has been one of the team’s top forwards the last two years, with five goals and three assists a year ago. She was an honorable mention all-FCIAC pick.
Joining Loredo on the second line will be senior captain Shannon McEveney, a four-year standout at forward, who had seven goals and four assists a year ago to earn honorable mention all-FCIAC.
Also in the mix for the second line are two other veterans — senior Alison Danvers (four assists) and sophomore Alyssa Laychak (three goals, eight assists).
The Warriors have more depth on the forward line than they’ve had in recent years, giving them the chance to play four lines this season. Five returning players in the mix for the third and fourth lines are seniors Lauren Gardner, Kelsey Locher and Caitlin Kuczo, and juniors Grace Bracken and Gianna Filipponi.
Defense took the biggest hit from graduation, with the team losing top defenders in Izzy Thelen (honorable mention all-FCIAC), Lily Blackwell (honorable mention all-FCIAC), Ali Purvis and Lily McDowell. Thelen’s skating ability made her a threat offensively, too, as she tallied three goals and 10 assists last year.
Fortunately, with the forward lines being so deep, Thomas — a standout on the forward line since her freshman season — will move back to the defensive line. She is a natural defenseman, said Maxfield, who played defense on the youth level.
Thomas, who had six goals and 11 assists last season to earn honorable mention all-FCIAC, will also give the Warriors the same offensive mind-set on the backline that Thelen did.
“I fully expect Molly to contribute to the offensive from her defensive position,” said Maxfield.
Also back to anchor the defense are two other veterans in seniors Caroline Wilson and Lauren Chiappetta (two goals last year). The back line will also feature junior Kim Castano and sophomores Grace DeCesare and Breann Decola.
“We had to fill some defensive holes but we juggled the lineup a bit. I think we’ll be all right on defense,” said Maxfield.
In goal, Wilton returns senior captain Izzy Najah, who put together a solid season last year in her first year of varsity play, earning honorable mention all-FCIAC.
Maxfield said Najah made a lot of progress during the offseason, as did the team’s other goalie, sophomore Kayla Cohen.
“They’ve both improved quite a bit,” he said.
The Warriors have the potential to reach several milestones. Only one Wilton team has reached 10 wins before, and only two have qualified for the FCIAC playoffs.
And with the state playoff tournament being expanded from eight to 12 teams, the Warriors definitely have a strong shot of making states for only the second time.
“We missed states by just one game last year, so our goal is definitely to make it to states this year,” said Thomas. “It would be a great way to end my four years on the team”
The program’s best season was 2010-11, when the Warriors finished 14-4 and qualified for both the FCIAC and state playoffs. The team won nine games in both the 2013-14 season and 2016-17 season.
With the numbers growing, winning seasons could become the norm for Wilton-Norwalk girls hockey in coming years.
“Every year I have seen more and more girls join the team no matter what grade they are in,” said Thomas. “There has been a noticeable increase in popularity and enthusiasm to be a part of the team. Though I leave after this season, I know that I am leaving behind a team with great hope, fight, and heart.”
Notes: This year’s team has 29 players, with seven freshmen, eight sophomores, three juniors and 11 seniors. Sixteen of the players are from Wilton, with seven from Brien McMahon and one from Norwalk.
This year’s roster, broken down by school:
Wilton (16): Lauren Chiappetta (Sr.), Alison Danvers (Sr.), Lauren Gardner (Sr.), Caitlin Kuczo (Sr.), Kelsey Locher (Sr.), Caleigh McMorris (Sr.), Izzy Najah (Sr.), Molly Thomas (Sr.), Caroline Wilson (Sr.), Grace Bracken (Jr.), Kim Castano (Jr.), Gianna Filipponi (Jr.), Kayla Cohen (Soph.), Breann DeCola (Soph.), Meghan Lane (Soph.), Natty Loredo (Soph.), Rachel Calabrese (Fr.), Emmy Castano (Fr.), Jenna Cole (Fr.), Holly Corper (Fr.), Sophia Savage (Fr.);
Brien McMahon (7): Anna Bean (Sr.), Grace DeCesare (Soph.), Caitlyn Hocker (Soph.), Alyssa Laychak (Soph.), Emma McLaughlin (Soph.), Kate Ely (Fr.), Ava Tracy (Fr.);
Norwalk (1): Shannon McEveney (Sr.).